India to Pakistan: Zardari call stories bid to divert attention (Lead)

December 7th, 2008 - 3:18 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi/Islamabad, Dec 7 (IANS) Dismissing Pakistani reports that he had called up President Asif Ali Zardari on Nov 28, Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee Sunday said that such stories were being spread by those seeking to “divert attention from the fact of an attack on India from Pakistani territory by elements in Pakistan”.Mukherjee stressed that he had last spoken to Zardari during his visit to Islamabad in May this year.

In a statement Sunday, Mukherjee said: “We were informed by friends from third countries that Pakistan President (Asif Ali) Zardari believed that he had received a threatening telephone call from me on 28 November, after the attack on Mumbai.”

“We immediately clarified to those friends, and we also made it clear to the Pakistan authorities, that I had made no such telephone call,” Mukherjee said.

Mukherjee’s clarification comes amid what New Delhi sees as motivated reports in the Pakistani media that a threatening phone call was made to President Zardari by someone from Delhi who posed as Mukherjee after which Pakistan had put its forces on high alert.

Mukherjee clarified that the only Pakistani leader he spoke to after the Nov 26 Mumbai terror attacks was his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mehmood Qureshi. Mukherjee spoke to Qureshi on the evening of Nov 28 and told him about India’s suspicion of the involvement of “elements in Pakistan” in the Mumbai attacks.

In a pointed rebuttal, Mukherjee cautioned those in the neighbouring country who sought to “confuse the public by releasing the story in part”.

“It is, however, worrying that a neighbouring state might even consider acting on the basis of such a hoax call, try to give it credibility with other states, and confuse the public by releasing the story in part,” said Mukherjee.

“I can only ascribe this series of events to those in Pakistan who wish to divert attention from the fact of an attack on India from Pakistani territory by elements in Pakistan,” he said.

The relations between India and Pakistan have come under strain following the Mumbai terror attacks, in which 172 people were killed. India says the terrorists behind the attack were from Pakistan and claims that they enjoyed patronage from sections in Pakistan’s spy agency ISI.

Pakistan’s High Commissioner to Britain Wajid Shasul Hassan, however, insists that it was Mukherjee who had spoken to President Asif Ali Zardari after the Mumbai attacks.

Hassan termed the hoax call reports as “rubbish”. He said that Zardari was put on line after confirmation that the call was from the Indian minister and the number from which the call was made is also in use of the Indian external affairs ministry.

“This is rubbish to say that ‘this call was not made from our side’…”, the high commissioner was quoted as saying by BBC Urdu website in reference to the Indian denial. He said he was told by sources in London that India can attack Pakistan.

According to Hassan, after his sources told him about the Indian plans on Pakistan, Islamabad mobilized its friends the world over. Officials here claim that it was after this call that US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice included Pakistan in her visit to South Asia after her trip to India on Wednesday.

A senior official of the Pakistan presidency said that there are standard procedures for connecting telephone calls to the president. “I am here (in the presidency) for the last 11 years and never has any call been connected to any of the presidents without verification,” the official told IANS requesting anonymity.

Pakistan’s Minister for Information and Broadcasting Sherry Rehman said that the government of Pakistan condemns efforts aimed at using the media for negative diplomacy as tensions between Pakistan and India are running high.

Commenting on reports in a section of the media about a so-called hoax call to the president on Nov 28, she said, “All calls received in the presidency are processed in accordance with an intricately laid down procedure.”

“It is not possible for any call to come through to the president without multiple caller identity verification (CLI).”

She said the call under reference too was “processed, verified and crosschecked under the same procedure”.

“In fact the identity of this particular call, as evident from the CLI device, showed that the call was placed from a verified official phone number of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs,” said Sherry.

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